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Why India is set to lose sole spot in AFC Champions League

Published at :May 16, 2023 at 8:25 PM
Modified at :May 19, 2023 at 4:07 AM
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Uttiyo Sarkar

India do not feature in the top 14 AFC nations and we look into the reasons why.

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) have taken away India’s AFC Champions League slot starting from the 2024/25 season. As it stands, Mumbai City FC will be the final Indian team to play in the competition for the foreseeable future.

As part of the AFC Club Competition slot allocation announced recently, it was confirmed that India will not have a place in the AFC Champions League. That is because of the country’s low coefficient ranking among the Asian football nations.

India to only have two AFC Cup spots from 2024

The Indian Clubs’ struggles in continental championships over the last few years has taken a toll on the country’s overall coefficient ranking as well.  As a matter of fact, the AFC named the top 14 AFC nations with the best club competition rankings from 2014-2022 recently.

Saudi Arabia have the highest points (92.795) thanks to their clubs’ dominance in AFC Competitions. Even Vietnam (29.469) which is ranked 14th in the club competition ladder, have a better coefficient ranking than India.

The AFC announced major changes to their club competition seedings and announced that Saudi Arabia will get three slots in the ACL group stages starting from the 2024/25 campaign. India will only get two spots, that too in the AFC Cup.

The winners of the top division (which is the ISL league stages) will get a direct entry into the AFC Cup group stages. Moreover, the winners of the domestic cup (Super Cup) will be granted a place in the qualifying playoffs – winning which that team can progress to the group stages.

Why did India lose ACL spot?

A number of factors could’ve influenced India to get stripped of one of the ACL spots. Firstly, there was a lot of confusion over the restructure of the club football pyramid over the last few seasons – with uncertainty over whether the ISL or I-League was the top division.

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) ultimately came up with a way to show the ISL league winners as the ‘top divison winners’ and get them to play in the ACL. Initially, the I-League winners were granted a place in the AFC Cup group stages – but that changed this year.

The 2023 Hero Super Cup winners faced the 2021/22 I-League winners Gokulam Kerala in a playoff to contest for the AFC Cup group stages spot – which the ISL club won. ATK Mohun Bagan won the ‘third’ spot by defeating Hyderabad FC – who had won the ISL playoffs last year.

Unfortunately, there won’t be three spots for Indian clubs starting from the 2024/25 season. The reason behind India losing a spot and their ACL place is also because of the Indian clubs underperforming in Asian competitions.

Neither FC Goa nor Mumbai City disappointed in the AFC Champions League in recent seasons, being unable to get past the group stages. ATK Mohun Bagan performed relatively well in the AFC Cup, but ended up losing in the inter-zonal semi-finals.

This impacted the Indian clubs’ coefficient, which didn’t really move as much as what was needed to get them among the top-14 AFC club nations. As a result, only two Indian clubs will be able to play in Asia’s second-tier competition from the 2024/25 campaign – with one spot needing to be earned through qualifiers too.